It always amuses me when I find out what people think kung fu at the shaolin temple, or any temple, was like.
Usually these thoughts come from fellows who find their way into my martial arts school. They grill me mercilessly, then, no matter what I have told them, they tell me that they want to go to a temple and sit at the feet of the masters. They want to swing swords with the monks and experience all the bizarre training routines that will enable them to beat up elephants and dragons, and pound their fists into unbreakable lumps of death.
Now, the truth of the shaolin temple is this: it had to support itself. That means the monks had to feed themselves, and this means every day.
Yes, they did martial arts, but, only after a day in the fields, or after building and repairing the walls and roofs, and even after sweeping up the leaves.
And, yes, the martial arts they did study after that were absolutely incredible…wing chun, preying mantis, hung gar, and so on.
But they worked before they did the martial arts.
Now, do you think the fellow who comes into my school, who usually isn’t working and who didn’t get through school, is going to have the stick-to-ivity, the necessary amount of muscles and concentration, to make it through the daily work at the Shaolin temple?
Is he going to be able to fix picks and shovels that broke? Repair the brickwork of crumbling walls? Get up on that roof and stop the rain from pouring in?
Is he going to be able to saunter twelve miles to the local village to sell vegetables from the temple gardens, and walk back, and then feel like doing a three hour workout in the martial arts?
And, is he going to be able to pick up a sword and fight bandits successfully?
Is he going to have the ability to help sick people from the neighboring village?
Is he going to be able to listen to long (boring?) lectures about religion?
Is he going to be educated enough to study the sacred scrolls,and maybe copy them for future monks?
I hope you see what I am getting at here. The real kung fu of the Shaolin Temple was more than just a good work out, it was a commitment of soul that most people would be in awe of…if they could even understand it.